And here I thought my bingeing days were long behind me. Not since the requisite eating disorder in high school have I so often found myself in secret places, making up stories about my whereabouts, and feeling generally insatiable.
My name is Michele and I am a binge viewer.
I rush home and open my laptop -- not to check email or do bills -- but to enter Kevin Spacey's sleazy world as a Washington power broker in Netflix's House of Cards. I usually have my first viewing alone during the afternoon. If my husband calls to say he will be playing tennis late, I quickly recalculate: how many hours will it take to zip through episodes 9-11? If only he would take a business trip, I could also O.D. on The Wire and finish that one off once and for all.
Oh sure, we can ask the psychologists what all this means on a deeper level. I am sure words like "instant gratification" and "impatience," would come up. Maybe even questions like, "What ever happened to foreplay?" (Think about it) But I would counter that binge viewing is good for those whose relationships have gone a tad stale. No longer excited about going to a movie theatre to sit through all those trailers? Or a restaurant where you can't see the menu or hear your partners? "My husband and I find it really romantic, holding hands and spending our cozy weekends in the country watching four straight episodes of Friday Night Lights," says my friend, novelist Sally Koslow.
Holding hands? Something to talk about? Binge viewing is the new date night!
It may also be the answer to another question: how to reconnect with our outsourced kids? My friend John, for example, was halfway through the latest Robert Caro tome, when his son persuaded him that he needed to watch all five Breaking Bad seasons. "Hey, we do all kinds of things to feel closer to our kids," claims a red-eyed John, who is simultaneously exhausted and hopped up from his attachment to the show, and morose about the fact that "I haven't read anything in weeks." Sally, however, insists, "It's like a great novel. You go into a world and don't want to come out. Would you really want to read a chapter once a week?"
Finding a fellow bingee makes for an immediate comrade, though there can be conflicting emotions. When Jim learned I too was making my way through the mesmerizing adventures of a chemistry teacher turned illegal chemist, we huddled in a corner to compare notes. Did I detect a wee bit of competitive superiority on his part when he learned how far "behind" I was? When someone smuggled me a copy of the entire third season of Downton Abbey, (like most of the country, I was only on episode five) I held out for days. Well, hours. Then I decided I would just jump one ahead. By the next morning, I knew enough to spoil everyone's Sundays for the following month. This gave me no sense of smugness -- well, maybe just a tad.
I have also binge-bonded with three folks who I see every morning in the neighborhood coffee shop. While we used to boast about being the last people to actually take an hour and read the (actual) New York Times, now we spend our time recapping Homeland, Downton Abbey and House of Cards. "It would be one thing if all this stuff were bad," whined one of my morning mates. "Then I could either really feel guilty, or hopefully break my habit with some help. But these shows are so damn good."
I know what he means. Years ago, I worked in a TV newsroom and the monitors would play the station's programs throughout the day. We all found ourselves helplessly immersed in the comings and goings of General Hospital. The ultimate test: Would we watch the show while on vacation? Therein, at last, was the purge. That is much more difficult to achieve when bloated with Emmy-winning, water cooler quality.
All this, needless to say, is even more challenging when bingeing on multiple series at a time. I often find myself trying to recall who said or did something to whom. Was Roger Sterling tripping on LSD or cooking meth? Which one is Damien Lewis and which one is Dominic West again?
Theoretically, this embarrassment of riches would be easier in bites. I do look back rather fondly on the days of Roots, when we as a country were all watching the same show at the same time. (By the way, those episodes ran nightly for a week. So we got a bit of the binge.) But then, I never could eat just a handful of M&Ms.
There is no right or wrong here. Some claim that binge viewing, as Jim found, is a way to bridge the generations. Though I now truly fear for my 19-year-old son who got through The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad and is now discovering Law and Order! That could literally eat up his entire young adulthood.
Personally, I don't have those kinds of years left. One suggestion I might offer, at least in heading off the glut, is Binge Prevention. It's fair to say I did that with Treme, which I did not love the first season. But I had enough confidence in creator David Simon (for whom I had binged on The Wire) to stick with it. To that point, I highly recommend you go back and watch the first (relatively short) two seasons of BBC America's The Hour. You will thank me later.
Who knows? If we wait long enough, we may find that binge viewing turned out to be healthy for us. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You, author Steven Johnson writes, "Eventually, like some crazed addict searching for an ever-purer high, I find myself designing my own simulations." In that case, he was defending the playing of video games as good for focus, math skills and hand-eye coordination. Perhaps video bingers show exceptional long-term concentration that goes against the ADD-ing of America. This may cure insomnia! Weight loss? We may not be burning up calories since we are stationary, but we are so reluctant to stop, that even a trip to the kitchen is out of the question.
Withdrawals? I've had a few. But even on a weekly basis, I suffer serious depression when Jon Hamm goes away for a year. I confess not only do I miss my binged shows when they end, I miss the activity itself. And what the hell am I going to do with all this time?
Personally, my short-term pledge is to finish House of Cards imminently; return to Breaking Bad for the final season and a half; and resist diving into Dexter, which I am told is right up there with the best.
Yeah, and I will only have a few of those M&Ms too.
"God, I watch a lot of crap ... Beverly Hills 'Housewives.' I really love 'New Girl' and 'Modern Family.' I try to watch a lot of comedy -- I can't watch anything that's over half an hour lately because the baby always wants something. 'Jersey Shore' just started up again, too ... my taste is very, uh, <i>unrefined.</i>"
"These days I'm watching a lot of 'Pippa Pig' and I'm watching a lot of 'Yo Gabba Gabba.' I can sing any 'Yo Gabba Gabba' song if you're up for it. [Laughs]"
"I watch 'Real Housewives' of any city. 'Atlanta' might be my favorite just 'cause Kandi's my favorite housewife of all of them. What else do I watch? 'New Girl,' 'Up All Night' and I'm loving 'SNL' lately. I've gotten back into 'SNL' ... I would <i>love</i> to [host 'SNL']. Are you kidding me? I think that's everybody's dream, but I don't know if anybody would let me. [Laughs] A girl can dream."
"'Top Chef'! I don't like this current season as much because they're moving around a lot. I'm also really liking Don Cheadle's new show, 'House of Lies.' And I love 'Homeland.' I love that show!"
"I've become obsessed with 'American Horror Story.' People are kind of scared of it, and I get it because it's scary. But I'm totally into it. My wife got me into 'Dancing With the Stars.' It's a slippery slope."
"All of my favorite shows are scripted, except for 'MythBusters,' which is not scripted, but continues to be just about the best show on television. My daughter, who's 11, contends that I'm not cool because I've never been on 'MythBusters.' She doesn't care what else I do because I have failed to appear on that show, so I'm not cool. It burns. It stings a little bit, but what can I say? I'm a huge BBC fan -- I just love British scripted television programs. Every once in a while, something will happen to make me fall in love with television, and it's usually English. I love 'Doctor Who.' In fact, at my daughter's school, there's been a huge resurgence in that show. There's a 'Doctor Who' Club, and it's just become a huge phenomenon all of the sudden."
"I'm a huge HGTV addict. I really am. I like those transformations."
"I love what's going on with cable. I think that they've really pushed the envelope with story telling, but to be honest, I've been pretty busy lately, and I don't have a lot of time. I do want to check out 'American Horror Story' though. I hear it's great. 'Nip/Tuck' really travelled from genre-to-genre within a single episode, so I've always known that [Ryan Murphy] could do anything ... He loves people to doubt him so that he can prove them wrong. I doubted him, too! And he proved me wrong."
"I film all the time, 12-18 hours a day, so I don't really have much time to watch TV. If I do, I like to watch reruns of 'Friends' or 'Seinfeld,' shows that are kind of easy-peasy to watch. One reality show I love to watch is 'Toddlers & Tiaras.' There's another show called 'Little Miss Perfect' and I made Lamar watch it and he was like, 'What is wrong with these people!?' It's just so sad to see how much makeup and spray tans and eyebrow waxing that these four-year-olds get! It's crazy, but that's my guilty pleasure that I watch."
"I watch a lot. I just started watching 'Downton Abbey,' and it's great. I think I want to be Carson [in the "Which 'Downton Abbey' Character Are You?" quiz] -- he's so good! So sad! We watch a lot of comedies, too -- 'Modern Family' is the best, and I'm still watching 'The Office.'"
"I loved ['Homeland']. I loved it. Actually, at our Showtime party, I superfanned a couple of the cast members. I had to tone it down a bit ... but I really wanted [Brody] to blow up [in the Season 1 finale]. [Laughs] Sorry, I really did. I know he pressed the button ... but I would rather suspend my belief in reality and say like, 'Oh, the plate got stuck and he didn't die because his head wasn't blown off, but he did blow up the rest of the room.' You know what I mean?"
"I just finished watching 'Boardwalk Empire,' which I thought was brilliant. I'm a big fan of 'The Wire' and 'The Sopranos.' We get such amazing TV from America."
"Did 'Alcatraz' start already? Because I want to jump on that. 'Lost' blew my mind, and I was late to that party! I didn't watch it originally, but then when I was on tour [with the national touring production of 'West Side Story'], I had all of this free time during the day and after shows. I watched all six seasons on Netflix in about two weeks. The people in my cast did not see me for two weeks. That's all I was doing. I was obsessed with 'Lost,' so I can only imagine that I'll be obsessed with 'Alcatraz.'"
"'Modern Family'! Our lead-in show, by the way ... [Laughs] I love 'Modern Family.' You know what else is really good? 'Tabatha's Salon Takeover.' Dude, that shit is dope."
"I like 'Sons of Anarchy,' I like 'Dexter' ... I was watching 'Californication' and my buddy Evan Handler from the 'Sex and the City' days, he's on that show. I watch 'Jeopardy' every night with dinner. I have a little contest while having dinner -- there will be 'Jeopardy' playing and my lady friend and I will be having a contest to see who's smarter. And I always lose. [Laughs]"
"[Coby Bell and I] watch Lawrence Welk when we have time off together. I'm not even kidding. I mean, Coby is supposed to be a hipster, so what's he doing watching Lawrence Welk?" <em>[Editor's note: Bell will not confirm or deny his Lawrence Welk obsession.]</em>
"'Jersey Shore'! I absolutely love it. I love Snooki. I just watched the Italy season. Listening to Snooki is incredible. She's brilliant. I like 'Teen Mom' as well."
"I'm a really big 'Real Housewives' fan. Love 'Beverly Hills,' love 'Atlanta' ... I watch all of that. And 'Toddlers & Tiaras.' My boyfriend and I were 'Toddlers & Tiaras' last year for Halloween. He was a pageant mom and I was a toddler."